Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Poetry and Disorder

Peggy went to nine schools before entering high school: two private, six months in a convent, one year in Beverly Hills, four public schools in Manhattan one in New Jersey. She was orphaned at eight and raised by a rich aunt and family who were wiped out in the Wall St. crash of 1929. Resilience builds character. Dickens could have written her story.

Mine was closer to the stable family which Tolstoy didn’t bother with. I was deprived of a deprived childhood having attended P.S. 99 for nine years including kindergarten. I can still smell the wood blocks, chalk dust, pencil shavings and pitted desks with ink wells. There I am running home with my report card of A’s and B plus but I never ran with scissors and played well with others.

If there is a poem in all this it’s not in the narrative. Poetry is less in the words than in the residue left after the words are gone. It is in the lift, the music, the illogic. Absurd leaps into unknowing. The poem is what words are incapable of saying, that ineffable sense beyond articulation. Like Impressionism the art is what makes the landscape tremble.

When Peggy was in Los Angeles in March of 1933 the earth shook to a measure of 6.4. The death toll was 115 but we prefer to think of it as my day of birth, the upheaval that was a sign, 3,000 miles away in New York.

My trajectory of an ordered life met hers filled with disruption, agitation and edge. Under the weight of rules and obedience something festers and then erupts with no sense of proportion.

It did for me in eighth grade when I briefly had my Donald Trump moment as a mindless, nasty bully. My co-conspirators and I nominated a kid for class president who was somewhere on what is now known as the Spectrum. The poor soul would have been expected to address the graduating class. He had been left back so many times he probably regarded the school as his permanent residence. Our teacher, Miss Seabury, wisely nullified the election as a mischievous prank.

Somewhere along the way I found that putting words to paper caused a minor seismic event. I wondered where they came from and what I meant by that last sentence. Some laughed and cried at the same time. 

Peggy lives with a poet’s disequilibrium between order and chaos. It is the same slant that Emily Dickinson insisted upon. I strive to see the world askew with astigmatic eyes.

If a touch of chaos is the well-spring of creativity a massive dose of it can do us in. Enter DJT who as ringmaster of this circus has caused a stampede of elephants and uncaged the feral beast. He is the anti-poet who degrades language and leaves us all with impoverished discourse. Yet even now his pernicious flimflam awakens an aroused public defending the precepts in the American grain being eroded. Our foundational values born in the Enlightenment have never before been under such threat.

Poetry is rooted in reverence, inclusion and the unexpected. It offers compassion and connectivity. Yeats said of the poem that a quarrel with others is mere rhetoric. Poetry is a quarrel with oneself. It allows doubt. To what extent are we complicit? Maybe Trump is the seismic shift we unconsciously invited to test our givens.  He may be controlling the narrative right now but the poem belongs to those many voices in this landscape of disquiet.


  1. Poetry is less in the words than in the residue left after the words are gone. One could say this about all art. We watched the TV show Civilizations last night, and in the episode on Art and Religion there was a statement about Islamic art, their way was Beautifying the Divine through the Word. Sounds poetic to me.

  2. I think words in poetry are like paint in art but when the reader takes in the words it is too often read literally as one might read a newspaper. Poetry is not about knowing but being transported.